Insights Commercial Asset Branding: Reimagining Dubai Mall for Chinese Travellers

Winning Chinese Travellers with a Unique Experience

With a formal tourism partnership signed between Dubai and China, Emaar Properties were looking to create a hub for the rapidly growing Chinese travel segment. As master developers behind Burj Khalifa and one of the largest real estate companies in the world, the Emaar management team were tasked with designing and implementing an experience that bridged local Emirati culture with the expectations of sophisticated Chinese travellers.

Collaborating Across Borders and Specialities

A multi-party co-creation team was formed, including Spectra, architecture partner Kokai Studios, and Emaar’s in-house design and operations teams.

By conducting a series of immersive brand experience workshops focused on studying Chinese travelers, we collaborated with Kokai Studios, to develop an innovative brand concept and prototype. This collaborative effort resulted in the creation of China Gate, a remarkable 400,000 sq ft retail extension later rebranded as Chinatown. China Gate flawlessly integrates Asian themes, patterns, and motifs, offering shoppers a distinctive shopping and leisure experience that transports them on a captivating journey through Asia, all within the confines of the city.

2023 Trends: The Middle East as a Retail-Leisure Destination

As international travel bounces back post pandemic, destinations in the Middle East look to attract high-spending Chinese travellers. Annual fashion sales in the Middle East’s Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) markets amount to $50 billion with spending in some Gulf countries among the highest on a per capita basis globally, reaching approximately $500 per person in Saudi Arabia and $1,600 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While Dubai holds top spot for shopping in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is growing quickly. Over 20 percent of Chinese millionaires plan to visit the Middle East in 2023-2024. Travel, hospitality, shopping and tourism players in the Gulf are looking to persuade China’s wealthy tourists away from the usual European cities and scenic island locales in Asia to become the world’s leading travel destination. Dubai saw almost a million Chinese tourists in 2019, and China was Dubai’s fifth-largest source market. With COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, officials in the Gulf are hopeful that Chinese and international tourist numbers will return to pre-pandemic levels by the Lunar New Year in 2024.

From High Technology to Immersive In-Store Experiences

The new relationships begin forged between the Middle East and China go well beyond oil-based economic partnerships, and span multiple industries from technology to hospitality and tourism. Strategic partnerships between Dubai Tourism and Tencent enable convenient, secure mobile payments for Chinese tourists at local Dubai outlets via WeChat and WeChat Pay. Dubai Tourism is also leveraging the Tencent Cloud to amplify the tourist experience for Chinese visitors and increase per-capita spending.

Retail in the Middle East is set to be predominantly in-person with a bulk of luxury sales still offline. The Dubai Commercial Real Estate Consultants’ report found that in-person retail transactions increased by 133 percent over the last year.

This post-pandemic return to in-store shopping has seen footfall in Abu Dhabi and Dubai increase 18.6 percent and 20.4 percent above pre-pandemic levels. The preference for in-store, in-person and immersive has enormous implications for commercial real estate players — designing seamless experiences that link offline to online channels can help boost sales.

Immersive local experiences that meet the expectations of savvy local and international customers who are looking for one-of-a-kind, socially shareable experiences. The merging of hospitality and retail, curating products that bring the best of local culture with the quality and polish of international brands, and the launch of concept stores are set to shape a new generation of innovative shopping experiences in the Middle East.



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